coworker says she loves shoplifting, asking to take over a specific person’s job, and more — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Coworker says she loves shoplifting

I’ve been angsting over a coworker interaction that I just let go by. I am the oldest and most domesticated person in my workplace, but I try hard not to give off “work mom” vibes. Maybe I have been too successful?

“Jane” works full-time in an admin role at our public library. She is fresh out of high school, so new to the workplace. She was chatting with “Cindy,” who shares my work space, when she started talking about how much she loves shoplifting. She hastened to add that she takes things only from large corporations and obviously would never steal from the library, where all our things are free. She concluded, “I love that I can say that here.”

She emphatically cannot say that here! She definitely can’t say it in front of me! I do not supervise her work but it’s hardly outside the realm of possibility that someone would ask me for an opinion on her and now I have major doubts about her integrity and her judgment.

What, if anything, should I have said in the moment? She wasn’t even exactly talking to me. Was I right to ignore it? I’m worried I gave the impression that I DO think shoplifting is okay.

“You really can’t say that here” would have been a fine response. Or, “Definitely do not say that here, or at any job.” Or, “Whoa, no, that’s not something you should say at work.”

But it’s so normal that you were too surprised to say anything in the moment! And I don’t think anyone observing would come away assuming you condone stealing.

2. How do I talk about where I went to college without people assuming things about me?

I’m in a phase of my career where people are, rightly, often asking where and in what I received my undergraduate training. I went to a not super well-known college, but when people know it they are very aware that it is deeply religiously affiliated (mandatory chapel, extensive religious coursework, strict behavioral code, etc). I was religious when I attended there but am not anymore and am uncomfortable with people seeming to assume that I still follow that faith when I tell them where I went to school. But I feel equally awkward launching into an “I was religious but I’m not anymore” spiel when I see that people recognize the school. I am proud of the education that I received there and believe it was sound so I don’t feel the need to hide it overall, I just want to avoid the assumptions. Any advice for good verbiage to navigate these situations?

“I’ve changed a lot since I chose it.” Leave it there; it’s short and sums it up without going into defensive-sounding detail.

That said … if the school is known for bigotry (something like Liberty University or similar), there’s a high risk of people assuming you’re aligned with its anti-LGBTQ and anti-civil-rights views. If you’re not, I’d make a point of looking for other ways to demonstrate that.

3. Can I ask an old employer to take over a specific person’s job?

This question is purely theoretical, as I intend to be at my current job forever, but what are your thoughts on calling up an old employer and asking to take over a specific person’s role? I normally wouldn’t dream of it but there are a few things in this situation that make me think there’s an outside chance this might be okay:

1. My boss had been preparing me for a supervisory role, and I only didn’t move into that position due a company acquisition where they retained all their staff and someone higher up the chain decided to keep on the supervisor from the new company.
2. I had been routinely doing multiple tasks that should have been done by this new supervisor, but she never got the hang of it. While I was working there, I could not have told you what she did on any given day, and she never seemed very knowledgeable about routine business operations.
3. From what I understand from employees I’m still in contact with, she’s routinely unavailable for hours at a time, mishandles routine technical issues, and still can’t give basic answers. The duties I’d been handling that should have been under her umbrella got passed on to a different employee who is on the same level I used to be.

I admit that she may have very time-intensive duties that keep her away from her phone, Teams, and email and may have extensive knowledge of some other part of the business that others are not aware of. That said, I’ve heard from a few people that it looks like she does nothing all day aside from occasionally micromanaging employees about minor issues, and you’d generally expect a supervisor to be more available to their employees and to be more knowledgeable about the business (especially since she’s been there for going on four years now).

With all that in mind, would it still be an overstep to call up and say, “I’d like to come back and have so-and-so’s job”?

It would be overstepping. You can’t call up a company you no longer work for and say, essentially, “Fire Jane and hire me instead.”

But what you can do is talk to whoever’s in charge of that role and say, “If Jane ever moves on, I’d be really interested in talking with you about moving into that role.” And if they’re unhappy with Jane’s performance, that might nudge them to get moving on it (and knowing they have a person they know and trust to take over can sometimes get people over the hump of “who will we ever find to replace her?” if that’s something they’re stuck on).

But for what it’s worth, for someone who doesn’t work there anymore (and who intends to be at your current job forever!) you sound too invested in what’s going on at your old company. You don’t need to think or care or even know about any of this anymore!

4. Is this the one time I should accept a counteroffer?

I have read all of your columns about not accepting counter-offers from your current employer. I love my current employer, but I applied for another job somewhat on a whim. See what I’m worth in today’s market. New Company offered me a job with a 24% increase in salary.

My current employer and I have been discussing promoting me to a manager in the next 2-3 years. When I gave notice, they tried to counter-offer but the CFO would not increase my comp at this time. But they said the manager role would be included in next year’s budget and the salary in the manager role would be the same as what this new job offer is.

The new job is more money now, but it’s a consultant role and not as safe from layoffs. My current job is very safe. Does it make sense to stay?

That’s not really a counter-offer. They’re not paying you more! They’re promising they will next year … but they’re not doing it now, and all sorts of things could change between now and then. How will you feel if next year rolls around and they tell you, whoops, there’s no money in the budget for it now? (And to be clear, they wouldn’t need to be planning on screwing you over for that to happen. Something could come up that they consider a higher priority or the budget could be tighter than anticipated.)

Choose between your job and salary as they are now and the other offer. The option they’re trying to convince you will exist next year isn’t real right now. If they want to convince you it is, the way for them do that is to actually make those changes now.

Relevant horror stories:

my company made a counter-offer to keep me — and now is attaching strings to it

my employer made me a counteroffer, then rescinded it

5. How can I get more info on maternity leave without starting a conversation I’m not ready for?

I just found out I’m pregnant (YAY!) and am struggling to get clarity on maternity leave policies for my organization. I’m about a year into my role. Knowing that starting a family was in my future, I had made a point of asking about the culture around family planning during the interview process. I was assured that it’s a very parent-friendly workplace, as someone on my team was able to take six months of leave recently. They didn’t share the specifics of how she was able to do that, though.

Now that I’m pregnant, I’m on the hunt for information about the leave I can take. I’ve searched our benefits site, but all I’m seeing are state-mandated 12-week parental leave policies. I also dug up the benefits documentation I was provided at the time of my hire, which doesn’t spell it out clearly either. It’s possible that parental leave may be part of the short term disability coverage (which would be up to six months), but I just can’t tell! We have about 10,000 employees so it’s a big company.

I want to ask someone in HR for more clarity and alleviate some of the stress I’m feeling about this, but I’m still a few weeks away from being ready to share the news with them, my manager, or any of my colleagues. If I were to reach out to HR, what kind of confidentiality can I expect? I know that they work for the company, not for me, and I’m worried that they could bring it to my manager’s attention even if I frame it as a question “for the future.” Can you advise?

Generally speaking, the larger your company, the safer it is to ask — the less chance an HR person will mention it to your boss (and also the less chance they’ll see it as a significant disruption since they’ll have plenty of experience with people taking parental leave). At a 10,000-person company, I’d just go ahead and ask. Frame it as, “I keep meaning to look into our parental leave policy. I’m not able to find it on our benefits site.”

They’re likely to just forward it to you without inquiry the same way they would if you asked about health insurance open enrollment or similar. But if anyone does ask you anything, respond with a breezy, “No current plans, just curious for now.”

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